Last summer, Katie Reiss remembers looking at the big, empty backyard of Calvary Lutheran Church where the new pastor, Craig Nissen, tried to plant some vegetables until the deer arrived and they disappeared.
Reiss’ own home wasn’t suitable for gardening so she went to the church council and inquired about building a community garden in the yard.
“I wanted to be able to plant and this was an empty field,” Reiss said. “It could be done during a pandemic and there’s a need in this community for people to be able to grow their own food.”
With council approval, Reiss, church pianist Nina Anderson, Yvonne Nelson and other community members set to work to build Evergreen Community Garden.
Reiss had never been involved in a community garden prior to starting this one, so she began researching and received some mentorship from organizers at Kalispell’s community garden. Soon, volunteers began tilling and fertilizing the soil and Reiss began brainstorming ways to raise $3,000 for an 8-foot tall and 132-by-80 foot fence.
“We made the announcement in church and I had the parishioner come up to me and say ‘I’ll write you a check for the balance,'” Reiss said. “I went to the bathroom and started crying.”
2 Thumbs Up Landscaping installed their irrigation lines for free and the garden was ready for planting at the end of May.
Several local gardeners also donated various flowers and plants, including Barton Morse, known as the Garlic King, who donated $1,000 worth of different plant starts. The Lybeck family also donated manure, straw and much of their time for the garden and Reiss used local compost from Dirt Rich Compost.
“It’s been amazing how many people came out of the woodwork to help us do this,” Reiss said.
Evergreen Community Garden now has 28 12-by-12 foot garden plots, two of which are communal plots planted with rhubarb and asparagus and an additional five 6-by-6 foot plots that include a communal herb garden.
The garden currently has eight 12-by-12 foot plots open, which cost $30 each for the entire season and Reiss says there are opportunities for scholarships if needed. Volunteer hours are not required, however everyone is encouraged to help if they can.
“We didn’t make volunteering a requirement but everybody’s helping out anyway,” Reiss said. “Everybody seems to want to and it’s been fun.”
Eventually, Reiss hopes to share communal harvests with the Flathead Food Bank and the church kitchen for meals once the garden produces enough food to donate.
In addition to the garden harvests, Reiss is also cultivating a social element to Evergreen Community Garden. With gardeners ranging from young singles to families to senior citizens, participants have the opportunity to meet new people while they garden.
“Everybody’s willing to jump in and work and they’re excited about making new friends,” Reiss said.
For more information, visit www.evergreencommunitygarden.com.
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